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A plan for the Murray–Darling Basin

The Murray–Darling Basin is the largest and most complex river system in Australia.

It covers 1 million square kilometres of south-eastern Australia, across New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.

Overview of Basin values

Over the years, the combination of natural droughts and increasing human use of the waterways for agriculture, manufacturing and communities has led to a decline in the health of the Basin.

In 2012, there was widespread agreement across government that a plan was needed to manage our water carefully and protect the Basin for future generations. The Murray–Darling Basin Plan was developed to manage the Basin as a whole connected system.

The aim of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan is to bring the Basin back to a healthier and sustainable level, while continuing to support farming and other industries for the benefit of the Australian community.

We are all impacted directly or indirectly by the Basin and what happens to it. It’s our shared resource, so it’s our shared responsibility to achieve a sustainably healthy river system for our current and future generations.

What’s in the Plan

At its heart, the Basin Plan sets the amount of water that can be taken from the Basin each year, while leaving enough for our rivers, lakes and wetlands and the plants and animals that depend on them.

We know the Basin encompasses a complex network of people, industries and organisations with competing interests and this is why water needs to be managed carefully for future generations.

Managing water is complex. It is a partnership between:

  • the Australian Government
  • New South Wales
  • Queensland
  • South Australia
  • Victoria
  • Australian Capital Territory.

How water is managed


Water limits for consumption

There are limits to the amount of water that can be taken from the Basin each year.

Water is managed through local water plans and water resource plans.


Water for the environment

Water for the environment is used to improve the health of our rivers, wetlands and floodplains.

Managing water for the environment requires recovering, planning and delivering water to protect vital ecosystems.


Infrastructure development, operation and maintenance

Dams, barrages and weirs regulate water flows and help deliver of water to communities, irrigators and the environment.

Water infrastructure is developed to ensure water flows to where it is needed.


Managing groundwater

Groundwater in the Basin is used for drinking water, agriculture, industries and for the environment.

Managing groundwater is important to preserve and improve water quality.


Maintaining water quality

Good water quality is vital to ensure the Murray–Darling Basin’s water is suitable for drinking, agriculture, recreation and the environment.

Water management and land-use practices, as well as natural processes, affect water quality in this large and complex river system.


Water markets and trade

Water markets encourage more efficient water use in the Murray–Darling Basin.

Water can be traded between water users, within set limits.


Monitoring and enforcing compliance

Complying with water rules is important to ensure water use in the Murray–Darling Basin is sustainable, while leaving enough for our rivers, lakes and wetlands.

Complying with water laws and policies is important because Australians need to have faith and trust in the water rules and the organisations that manage water.


Monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of water management

Monitoring and evaluation are carried out on annual and 5 yearly cycles.

Basin governments and communities adjust their approach in response to new information and local knowledge.

Adaptive management

A cornerstone of the strategy for managing water resources in the Basin is adaptive management – ‘learning as you go’ by trialling techniques, monitoring, and making changes as needed.

Water managers must be flexible and dynamic to achieve the best possible outcomes. This is the modern way of managing natural resources.

Adaptive management allows governments and communities to adjust their approach in response to current climatic conditions, new information and local knowledge when planning for the future.

The features of this approach are planning, management, monitoring and evaluation. Adaptation can happen at any one of these stages.


Updated: 18 May 2022